My bike has a high profile: I chose it for comfort, not speed.
I ride for convenience, when it’s convenient. It’s the fastest, and the most predictable means of getting to work in fair weather. I don’t wear spandex, or those rigid shoes that clop like hooves, but dress shirt, slacks and shoes. I can say, with confidence, that I am the best dressed cyclist on Adanac-Union. Of a sunny weekday morning, you can find me lagging behind the pack, on a leisurely fifteen minute door-to-door, near sweat-free commute.
I don’t wear earbuds, because they interfere with my senses and that’s unsafe. I don’t wear a helmet because I follow the rules of the road and it interferes with my Euro style and worldly sensibility: who wears a helmet in Amsterdam, or Rome, or even Toronto? Bureaucrats, maybe.
A beautiful morning: dry and sunny, with a light cool snap against my cheeks.
I ride north on Penticton. Turning left on Adanac, I get a bad vibe, an anxiousness, from a black, over-sized BMW SUV, turning to the same direction from the north.
With a solitary vehicle a half-block away heading east, the BMW pulls up right behind me, and instead of waiting for the oncoming vehicle to clear, pulls out, forward, and cuts right across my path. I brake, swerve, and shout in quick succession. To my surprise, the BMW stops.
I ride up to the passenger side.
Now, my usual approach in such circumstances is to engage the driver with the goal of exacting recognition of the fault and then move on. While this may be challenging given adrenaline levels, I tend to reserve a rather disagreeable temper for those popularly categorized as “assholes” –the congenitally unreasonable.
In the passenger seat: a surly teenaged girl. In the driver’s presumably her mother –she did not have a nuanced grasp of English. And so:
“You cut me off.”
No response. “You almost hit me. You know, with your car.”
“No,” says she.
“Uh … yes!” says I.
“You’re not wearing a helmet.”
I asked her whether it was okay to kill cyclists if they’re not wearing a helmet. Somewhere in there I apparently employed a “fucking” or two, like “fucking cyclists” or “fucking helmets,” or maybe both. I can’t recall this part precisely.
“Don’t swear: my daughter.”
At this point I pulled the pin on a grenade that I find effective when dealing with people from certain cultures; ie. those that do not have a strong tradition of democracy or embody an innate fear of authority.
“I’m going to report you.” This was ridiculous, of course, but I retrieved my phone and went through the motions of photographing her front plate.
This produced a prolonged verbal explosion from the driver. While the precise content eluded me, I was of the distinct impression that she was upset. She drove off -this time making a wide berth to avoid me. I was sorry to see her go, as we were getting somewhere.
She stopped for the light at Nanaimo, and again I cycled up to the passenger window. The daughter kept her eyes half-focused on some indeterminate point in the distance.
I suggested that given the obvious amount of capital available to her to purchase such an expensive vehicle, that she might want to consider directing a small portion to education on its proper use –something like that, anyways.
Apparently swearing in front of her child was no longer a high priority, as mom flipped me the bird, waving it about erratically, shouting “Fuck you!” repeatedly until the light turned green and she drove off, pulling into the Templeton parking lot.
My job done, I rode on.
My pace was leisurely. My senses were unobstructed.
I yielded as necessary. I halted at Vernon, for the dangerous dogleg connecting it with Union, even as other helmeted and iPod-enhanced cyclists blew off the stop.
Not for me, such indiscretions.
But I was wary -of the occasional car that sped by, or those that burst across Union to effect a rush hour shortcut.
I pondered the narrow physical gap and the wide social gulf, and questioned the rationality of my choices, for I don’t live in Amsterdam, or Rome, or Toronto, even.